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In Memory of an Inspiration
Pastor Joe Giacometti ©2004

I am saddened to be inspired to write in this way, as it is the death of a well respected, unique man that has led me to the words on this page. Last week, the world of youth ministry learned that Mike Yaconelli, a pioneer in the field, tragically passed away at the age of 61. I say tragically, because even though some one past the age of 60 has a far greater likelihood of dieing at any moment then say, someone your age, Mike was not the kind of man who seemed 60 years old. He was a very young 61, with energy, fun and love for God and life galore.

“Who is this guy with a weird last name?” you might ask. He was the co-founder and owner of a company called “Youth Specialties.” Again, you might be in the dark as to this name and company. However, I assure you that if you are on this website by now, chances are you have some faith in God which means that chances are you’re associated with a church and chances are you’re therefore associated with some sort of youth group and chances are you’ve most certainly been affected by, or at least experienced something that was made possible by “Youth Specialties,” and thus, Mike Yaconelli.

Yaconelli has always had a passion for God, passion for young people, and a passion for those who minister to young people. More than 30 years ago, while frustrated trying to find a publisher for a book of “youth ministry ideas,” him and a buddy decided they would create their own company to publish the book. This started “Youth Specialties,” a company that would forever change the face of modern youth ministry. Fueled by the unique, wild and radical ideas of Yaconelli, the company has emerged as the largest of its kind in the world. The company provides countless resources for youth, youth workers, churches and even pastors. Most of you reading this right now have most likely experienced a lesson, game, worship experience or something that came about because of Youth Specialties.

Back to the man of mention. What a guy! I was blessed enough to encounter this man personally a number of times, watching him speak, attending his workshops at conventions, and met him close up a couple of times. I’ve also read his two books, “Dangerous Wonder,” and “Messy Spirituality.” From the above encounters I will attempt to give you a glimpse of what this man was like in the paragraphs below.

The first time I heard of this guy, he got up on stage at the final session of a 4 day convention I’d been at. “Yaconelli?” I thought… cool name! The first thing he said stuck with me clearly since that day… “Put your notebooks down. I don’t want you to take any notes. It only distracts you from hearing and truly listening to what I’m going to say.” Immediately I said to myself, “That’s it! I love this guy! He’s my favorite speaker!” As I’d been at this conference with my college, and of course we had to make something academic out of something that was so much fun. So, I put the notebook away, sat back and relaxed, as this man mesmerized me, and actually finished early! (Most of the speakers struggled to finish on time at this convention, and well, in Christianity in general). I don’t even remember necessarily what he spoke about; I just knew I liked him.

I heard he was coming out with a book, just about the time the next convention rolled around. I was fortunate enough to go this time with my church, so it was a little more laid back. In any case, I bought the book, and had him sign it. When he heard my last name (quite Italian) he said “Ah, my pison!” And signed it with pleasure. It was a memorable few minutes of contact, but on the plane ride home I blew through about half of that book, “Dangerous Wonder, The adventure of Childlike Faith.” This book was a true joy to read. Mike wrights like he’s having a conversation with you. His ideas are refreshing, and his stories are captivating. He says it like it is, and isn’t afraid to make you feel uncomfortable, or even offend you some times, for the sake of glorifying God’s desires for us. This is a book that I continue to struggle to live by, though we all need to have the sort of abandon of a childlike faith, it’s tough to achieve. But it’s a book that has greatly inspired me.

Mike’s second book, I have no trouble achieving. Its title “Messy Spirituality,” is the epitome of all of us, struggling to keep up with a God that gets lost in the haze created by our worldly surroundings and human blunder. Mike challenged me in this book quite a bit more with some of the idea’s he posed, but I come much closer to achieving a messy spirituality than I do an ideal childlike faith. Which is why the book is so intriguing and important. The point is that God’s love and grace extends to all, those with neat and messy spirituality alike. A true challenge and test of our often keen ability to judge others.

My final reflection of Mike Yaconelli came just a little more than a year ago, while again at the Youth Specialties Convention. This time we were in Pittsburgh, and while four members of our staff were able to attend, a few could not make it. One of the women, who could not make it, made up a scavenger hunt for us that did go, to be completed while on our 5 day trip. This was particularly appreciated by me, as I’m always making up the scavenger hunts, and never get to participate on them. In any case, one of our tasks was to obtain a photo with group members and Mike Yaconelli with an Oreo in his mouth. So, knowing the kind of man that Yaconelli is, I had the plan, and we entered one of his workshops. At the end, we waited while he finished up answering questions with various people. We asked some one to “Take our picture with Mike.” We all waited, and then the time was right. We walked up to Mike, I with Oreo in hand. We surrounded him, without saying a word. I lifted up the Oreo, held it in front of him, shoved it in his mouth, and Click, the picture was taken. We then laughed about it, explained what was going on, and had a brief conversation with him. This very event characterizes quite well the character of Mike Yaconelli, and will forever be the picture in my mind of his awesome, unique spirit.

Mike Yaconelli
July 24, 1942 - October 30, 2003